During the 1960s and 1970s, two companies called Arkla Exploration and the Duval Corporation explored Northern Arizona for potash in the Holbrook Basin by drilling over 100 holes. The Holbrook Salt Basin is a project area that rests approximately seven miles east of Holbrook, Arizona. A report was released with compelling evidence that the location held a substantial amount of potash.
Potash is a material that is mined and typically used by farmers for fertilizer. In just 2007 alone, farmers in the United States utilized over 5.2 million metric tons of potash and of that amount, 80 percent was imported. It is estimated by a current U.S. Geological Survey that there are approximately six billion tons of U.S. potash available in the United States. At a time when Arizona’s economy is struggling, particularly in rural communities, market forecasts are showing that the long-term trends and outlook for the mining of potash, soda, and borate over the course of the next five years will skyrocket. In areas surrounding these newly tapped resources, the growth potential is exciting. Currently in the U.S., the majority of potash production has been confined to areas such as Michigan, Utah, and the largest producer: New Mexico. The Holbrook Basin project holds the newest potential for this valuable resource.
Already there are major companies that have invested in this possibility, the two biggest players being American West Potash (AWP) and Passport Potash. According to a report issued by Prospect Global Resources on the AWP site, the potash “will be mined by conventional underground mining methods accessed by shaft which will allow for the production of two million tonnes per year of finished product. In order to achieve this production target, it is estimated that 13.5 MMT of mineralized material (sylvinite) are required to be mined.” The report estimates that the life of the AWP mine would be approximately 40 years.
Brad Traver, superintendent for the Petrified Forest National Park, says working with American West Potash has been very positive and although the company owns the rights to what is under the ground, some of the area above ground is Park Service property. He said that the company appears to be on track with the project and has worked out “keep above ground” operations to have operations outside the park property.
“They have been very cooperative and have worked to create a mutually beneficial arrangement,” said Traver. He also went on to say Passport is still continuing on its project. “I hope that we will have the same kind of cooperation with them as well.”
Despite the fact that AWP is moving quickly forward, John H. Eckersley, executive vice president for Passport Potash, says they are still very optimistic about how things are progressing on their own project.
The company is waiting for the March release of a resource estimate, explained Eckersley. It will incorporate the results of the 30 exploratory wells that have been drilled on Passport’s properties since 2009 along with results from the drilling done in the 1960s and 1970s. “This report will give us an idea of the size of the resource on our properties and will largely dictate our next steps. Until we receive this report, it would be premature to speculate about any future plans. Having said that, it is fully our intention, should we receive a positive report, to take the steps necessary to bring a potash mine into production in the Holbrook basin.” Eckersley noted that they have received a lot of positive feedback from communities in the area.
“We have spent a lot of time in the communities that we believe will be affected by our project. This past summer we participated in festivals, parades, county fairs and celebrations in most of the surrounding communities and have had a chance to talk with many people. We understand what it would mean to the people of this area to have a new industry which will not only provide jobs, but will also help to stimulate the local economies.” He said he has spoken with several people who are excited about the possibility of simply bringing children back to the area who have had to move away because of the lack of local jobs.
“We believe we have already helped the surrounding communities through the exploration phase of our project and know that the impact will be increasingly greater as we go through the next phases of development, into construction and finally into production.”
In addition to what the impact of the project might directly have on the Northern Arizona economy, there are also additional benefits that are emerging. Northland Pioneer College President Dr. Jeanne Swarthout indicated that NPC is making plans to expand its presence at the Painted Desert Campus in Holbrook.
“While the planned new building, a skills center, will include space for the future Career and Technical programs associated with the potential potash mines,” explained President Swarthout, “the intent of the building is to bring our very popular welding program from an off-campus site in Holbrook onto our campus. Additionally, NPC is planning to bring back its construction trades program, dormant for about four years.” President Swarthout explained that the new, updated construction trades program will first be rolled out in the new skill center at the campus in Holbrook.
“To sum up, the planned expansion at the Holbrook campus is a response to a variety of college and community needs, the proposed mines part of that plan.”
Although some of the bigger aspects of the project are not expected to begin until early next year, there are still some hopeful signs that the economy will see a boost in some of the rural communities. AWP anticipates that after construction they will have a consistent workforce of almost 390, with hourly wages of $25 and management and supervisory salaries of $80,000. FBN